I believe he is the President that the US needs… that the world needs.
I believe he is the President that the US needs… that the world needs.
Last Thursday night I attended a Q & A session hosted by the Australian Lawyers for Human Rights and LaTrobe University. It featured an “all star” panel comprising Anna Burke member for Chisolm, Sarah Hanson-Young Greens senator, Julian Burnside QC, David Manne, human rights lawyer and Dr Savitri Taylor, lecturer LaTrobe University.
It was a sellout event.
I want to share with you the insights I gained from the evening and the feeling of shame and despair I left with. But before I do I want to discuss briefly a basic and important legal principle. I hope it will provide some context to the concern I have (we should all have) over this governments’ and previous government’s treatment of the refugee crisis gripping this country and the world.
The principle is the Rule of Law. What is it? Why is it important?
The principle had been discussed and explored since Aristotle’s time. The Magna Carta was the first implementation of the principle in English law.
It seeks to prevent arbitrariness by leaders and governments and prevent the indiscriminate exercise of power. It is intended to make governments accountable for their actions.
There is no universally accepted definition but there is universal acceptance of
the following elements.
(1) that the people (including, one should add, the government) should be ruled by the law and obey it and (2) that the law should be such that people will be able (and, one should add, willing) to be guided by it.
Over time it has included the separation of powers, and independent judiciary, democratically appointed law makers, an open and transparent law making process, equality before the law, liberty for all, free speech, free assembly, presumption of innocence, trial by jury, right to legal representation, right to a fair hearing etc.
In some countries these “rights” are enshrined in a bill of rights or a constitution.
In Australia, we do not have a bill of rights but we do have a constitution that includes some of the above.
Rule of law is intended to be the unwritten rules and principles that govern the actions of decision makers in our society. I have always thought that Australia was “safe” because the Rule of law was alive and strong.
I don’t think that any more.
This is what I learned last Thursday evening.
1. There are 30,500 refugees in indefinite detention in Australia and at off-shore processing centres. This includes about 2,000 children. The fact that we say “about” is an indictment in itself. Why don’t we know the precise number?
2. Some refugees are held (indefinitely) in suburban centres in major cities. There is probably a centre within 10 km of you now.
3. 1,459 people are held on Nauru and Manus Islands
4. The cost of the government’s asylum seeker policy is difficult to measure because money is taken from a number of departmental budgets. But it has been estimated at $5 billon per year.
5. Take an alternate policy where we agreed to keep asylum seekers in detention for no more than a month (in Australia) for health and security checks and then released them into the community (particularly regional centres) with no welfare benefits but an ability to find jobs. They would then be required to report regularly until their application was finalised. The estimated cost of such a program would be $500 million. Being 1000th of the current cost.
6. The town of Nihill has been revived by resettled refugees. The local duck factory Luv-A-Duck was facing certain closure before resettled refugees and a revived spirit by locals brought it back to almost full production.
7. Our regional centres are calling out for assistance as young and old desert the country for the major cities. The Nihill story can be replicated elsewhere. How many of you are familiar with the Nihill revival story? With any “good news” refugee story?
8. In the late 1970s, when confronted with a large influx of refugees from Vietnam, the Fraser government opted to resettle them in a humane manner. Simple as that. No deterrence. No border protection. Leadership par excellence.
9. In contrast in 2015, when the world was appalled by the sight of 3 year old Aylan Kurdi washed up on the shore of Turkey, Tony Abbott was asked what will Australia do to help? He said that he thought Australia was already doing enough. It was only public pressure that saw him agree to accept any Syrian refugees. No leadership.
10. The world is facing a refugee crisis greater than the crisis after World War II.
11. If we wish to reduce the influx of refugees, it would help to stop waging war in their country. It would help if we didn’t slash foreign aid.
12. The current oppressive asylum seekers policy has been developed by both major parties over 25 years. It has sunk to greater and greater depths of inhumanity by measured incremental steps.
13. Currently asylum seekers are faced with indefinite detention. Some have been in detention for more than 7 years.
14. To secure a temporary visa refugees are required to complete, in English, a 62 page form containing 184 questions.
15. Their fate literally depends on them completing the form correctly. Regulations prevent amendments to the form at a later time.
16. The government has slashed to nil all Legal Aid for migration work. As such refugees depend on volunteers to assist them.
17. If you wish to visit a detention centre you need to ring in advance, state who you wish to see and make an appointment. Often times requests to visit are turned down.
18. Anna Burke and Sarah Hanson-Young reported that even politicians are asked to leave their phones at reception and not to talk to the detainees when they visit detention centres.
19. In 2014, the Abbott government issued a directive to all ministers and federal public servants that from hereon, detainees were to be referred to as “illegal”. This is despite the fact that the term “illegal” does not appear anywhere in the Migration Act. Almost overnight the press and media were filled with stories of illegal arrivals. Asylum seekers were portrayed as queue jumpers. Rule breakers. Cheats. NOTHING IS FURTHER FROM THE TRUTH.
20. Australia has a dual system. While we are signatories to a number of UN treaties and conventions, including the Convention on Refugees, the terms of these treaties and conventions do not become Australian law until they are ratified by the Australian parliament. No ratification means there is no need to comply.
21. In fact, the Abbott government has revoked legislation that previously ratified some UN conventions.
22. The recent High Court decision validating offshore detention centres was no surprise to human rights lawyers. After the challenge was commenced the Abbott government introduced legislation to close all loopholes and defeat any challenge. The legislation was to operate retrospectively.
23. Sarah Hanson-Young related the “passing” of the legislation. Parliament’s winter term was to close on the Thursday (in June). Canberra was as usual for that time of year, cold and miserable, and the politicians were keen to return home. On the Wednesday afternoon, the bill was introduced into the House of Representatives. It was not first reviewed by any committee. It had bipartisan support. It was passed quickly by the House of Representatives with minimal debate. The next day the Greens sought to hold up the passage of the bill in the Senate. They proposed amendment after amendment until about 1.00am Friday morning when a vote was called and the bill became law.
24. Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers breaches all UN conventions dealing with refugees. Australia is guilty of gross contraventions of human rights. Australia’s behaviour would not be accepted by their European trade partners. It is the Australian government that is acting illegally not the asylum seekers.
24. Asylum seekers are not entitled to collect benefits or to work.
25. Those visiting refugees in detention centres have reported an alarming deterioration in mental health.
26. The process is designed to crush their spirit so that they “volunteer” to return home.
27. Since when have people fleeing from trouble become trouble themselves?
28. There is no logic to the current policy. Think about it. If we are concerned about people undertaking hazard maritime journeys, why would we turn boats around in the middle of the ocean? Why don’t we conduct search and rescue operations when boats capsize?
29. If we wish to stamp out villainous people smugglers, why would we treat with them and pay them to turn their boats around?
30. If it is about security, do we need to crush those who have passed all security checks? The Fraser government response to the refugee crisis after the Vietnam war did not compromise Australia’s security. Today we have far more “intelligence” and better systems to process refugees.
31. If it is about deterrence, why is it about deterrence? Why do we want to discourage people from coming here? Have we run out of space? Have we run out of resources? (Remember this policy is costing us $5 billion per year). Australia is no backwater country. Those wishing us harm know there is every chance they will get caught. Why risk it?
32. The logic of deterrence is inhumane. It means the harsher and more harmful processes will be more successful. As such we have successive governments competing between themselves to see who can be the most cruel in the interests of deterrence.
33. Should we harm children, as we do, in the interests of deterrence?
34. David Manne explained that the government is engaging in CONSCIOUS CALCULATED CRUELTY. Think about it. Would we tolerate such policies in Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, Communist China, Uganda, Rwanda, South Africa, Cambodia, Sierra Leone, Guantanamo Bay……?
35. Why are we prepared to lock people up indefinitely? Being people who have committed no crime. Being people for all intents and purposes who are good people. Why do we want to crush their spirit? To demonise them? How have we come to this?
35. The Australia I know is warm and generous. We are a nation of immigrants. We have one of the most successful multicultural societies in the world. Multiculturalism delights in difference and condemns discrimination.
36. Notwithstanding Australia is antipathetic towards the plight of the refugees in our midst. Antipathetic to the gross violation of human rights. Antipathetic towards the inhumanity of our government.
37. There is no such thing as casual racism. Racism is racism.
38. Anna Burke is retiring from politics at the end of her current term. Recently she was campaigning in Box Hill and in her team were a group of second generation Chinese. Box Hill has a strong Chinese population. A passerby shouted out to a team member “Go home you chink!” To which he responded “Where, Nunawading?”
39. When the Tampa crisis was burning hot, Burke received more correspondence about the livestock transport ship The Comora than she did about Tampa.
40. Burke’s electorate covers a number of Universities and educational institutions. Her electorate is well educated. But to this day, she receives more mail about live sheep exports than she does about refugees and detainees.
41. Aladdin Sisalem was born in Kuwait to Egyptian parents. During the Iraqi war he was detained by authorities and tortured. He fled detention and worked his way to Indonesia where he boarded a boat for Australia. His boat was intercepted by the Australian Navy. He was placed in detention on the PNG’s Manus Island. In 2003, he was the last detainee left on the island. His parentage (his father was Palestinian from Egypt) created distrust among authorities. Legal attempts to relocate him to Australia had failed. So Aladdin wandered the island by himself (under the watchful eyes of Australian authorities). No one cared about him. Then the press learned that it was costing taxpayers $25,000 a day to keep Aladdin on Manus Island and he was brought back…..quickly. John Laws, Sydney shock jock, came to learn that Aladdin had left behind his cat “Honey” and he began a radio campaign to raise money to bring Honey home. The campaign eventually reunited Aladdin with his cat. …. I am not making this up.
42. Every week Sarah Hanson-Young receives hate mail and death threats because of her position on asylum seekers.
43. There is no Rule of Law when it comes to making decisions on the fate of refugees or dealing with their liberty.
44. The fundamental principle being that governments should do no harm, is missing in Australia. No one seems concerned. We keep electing the major parties despite their inhumanity to refugees.
45. Shame Australia Shame.
The speech is famous for the expression
“a kind of socialism for the rich and rugged hard individualistic capitalism for the poor.”
King was describing the many benefits given to whites to better themselves, being opportunities not given to blacks.
We have a similar crisis emerging today, where the gap between rich and poor is increasing.
King was keen to repair the social fabric by providing opportunities for everyone. This sentiment is as important today as it was back then. He knew it was a difficult struggle.
Picture courtesy of history.com
2016 is likely to be viewed as a watershed year because of the forthcoming US Presidential election. A watershed year marks a turning point in history.
While the election is not until November, people are already concerned about the quality of the candidates.
The next president will need to deal with a range of emerging issues that will challenge even the best leaders and visionaries. The situation in the Middle East is growing less stable with each passing month. The growing hostilities have already dragged in Russia and threaten to draw in others, dare I say China. What will happen then?
The world economy is looking tired and worn. China has huge internal issues with its markets. The west is only seeing the tip of the iceberg. When China stops, the rest of the world crashes. Europe is a basket case propped up by German goodwill. There does not appear any way forward other than divisive austerity. Is there another way? How long can the Germans hold back the dyke?
In the US, things are superficially okay but any close examination will reveal a gaping divide between rich and poor. The gap between the haves and have-nots grows with each passing year. The country is on edge because of the terrorist threat. A trillion dollars is spent each year on defence and border control. Gun violence is on the increase. Those opposing gun control seem to have an insuperable task. Local tensions are likely to result in greater violence as the people of the US come to a landing on this issue. A bad decision by the people at the election may plunge the country into chaos.
But I am hopeful. There is an alternative for the US. In finding that solution I take you back to FDR. Roosevelt is one of my favourite presidents having lifted his country out of the depression and set them onto the path to prosperity. In 1944, his State of the Union speech addressed the issues of the US at war and post war recovery. At the end of the speech he set out a bill of economic rights.
The speech is largely forgotten even though the bill of economic rights should be pinned to every politician’s wall. Read and be impressed.
Recently, the media has released a speech by Stan Grant given at a conference on racism last October. The speech was released in time for Australia Day.
To say it is an impassioned and moving speech is to grossly understate its power. Some say it represents Australia’s “Martin Luther King” moment.
In just under 9 minutes Grant unveils an indigenous perspective on Australian history. A history steeped in the blood of indigenous people.
As a person with indigenous ancestry he tells a number of gruesome tales of real life tragedies and scandals involving his family.
It brings tears to the eyes to hear that we could act so callously towards fellow human beings.
Grant says that Australian history is rooted in racism.
How are we ever going to move toward reconciliation?
The will to reconcile is certainly there but the issues are politicised. This probably explains why Australians give generously to assist Muslims devestated by a tsunami but they are not as generous towards Muslims fleeing persecution. The latter issue is politicised.
Where is the leadership we need?
Picture courtesy of professorjohnston.com
Today is Ash Wednesday.
Throughout the Christian world, people are getting ready for the Lenten season. Easter is not far away.
In Victoria, Ash Wednesday conjures up images of bush fires destroying large tracts of land and reducing properties to …. well… ash.
When I was young I was told that ashes signified where all of us end up. The saying being, “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust” I thought this incongruous as it was only recently that the Catholic Church condoned cremations. But I digress.
Ash Wednesday signifies the stripping away of our external trappings and a period of examining our inner self. Forget what we portray to the outside world, ask ourselves who am I?
We look in the mirror and we see ourselves. But what do we see? We are left staring at the one staring back at me.
Lent is therefore a period of introspection. But with introspection comes testing oneself. Placing ourselves outside our comfort zone to see how we behave. See if there is room for growth. Dare I say, improvement.
So during Lent we commit to a course of change, if only temporarily. Some of us will engage in self denial by forgoing everyday pleasures or comforts. Some will go without sweets, or coffee, or their usual trip to the movies etc.
Today is a day of fasting.
Others will commit to a certain course of conduct. For example, regular charitable acts, visits to parents, more frequent attendance at Mass etc.
Others will commit to regular prayer or spiritual readings or something different for the purpose of exploring our inner selves and our faith.
It’s only forty days. The same period that Jesus fasted in the desert before he was unsuccessfully tempted by the devil.
I went to Mass today.
I am always amazed at the large numbers that attend on Ash Wednesday. At a regular weekday Mass the church is probably one third full. Today it was standing room only. I suspect the mystery of Ash Wednesday still resonates with people even though Mass attendances are otherwise dropping off at an alarming rate.
The priest spoke about Lent being a time of sifting. Sorting through our lives. Getting our hands dirty. Dipping into the manure that surrounds the roots of our lives.
He explained that “sin” stands for “stuck in narcissism”. Nothing more, nothing less. When we block out others and God because we are only concerned about ourselves. Sin is relational. When I was young we called it selfishness.
I learned that this year was “the Year of Mercy”. We had to enter the “Mercy Door” at the side of the church rather than the door at the front. I wondered whether the selection of this theme was in any way connected to the scandal facing the Church worldwide. Is the Church seeking mercy?
Read a fascinating article in the church newsletter about confession from a priest’s perspective. Very well written. He made it sound like a heroic act to attend confession. Christians that confessed were trying to restore good relations with God and he was in the privileged position of mediating between God and his people.
I’ve always been sceptical about confession but this article was inspirational. Made me think of going to confession myself. I found the article on the net and a link is included below. Worth reading.
I can’t remember an Ash Wednesday Mass where I haven’t bumped into Mark. Mark worked at the Age newspaper with my late uncle Vince. He is one of the few remaining connections to my uncle, so I look forward to seeing him and saying “hello”. But I didn’t see Mark there this year. I even looked for him after Mass. I hope all is well.
At the end of Mass one has to decide what to do with the ashes smudged on one’s forehead. Most people simply wipe them off. I decided to brave the stares of strangeness by not wiping them off until I got to our building.
Strange religion …. ashes, blood and flesh, crucifixions, virgin births, resurrection etc. Sounds medieval.
Whether you are a believer or not there are some great stories in the Judaeo – Christian tradition.
Today marked the beginning of the legal year. I attended the Red Mass at St Patrick together with a congregation from Melbourne’s legal fraternity.
Inside the mass booklet was the following prayer composed by Thomas More.
It resonated with me and I wish to share it with you.
“Pray that, for the glory of God and in the pursuit of His justice, I may be trustworthy with confidences, keen in study, accurate in analysis, correct in conclusion, able in argument, loyal to clients, honest with all, courteous to adversaries, ever attentive to conscience. Sit with me at my desk and listen with me to my clients’ tales. Read with me in my library and stand always beside me so that today I shall not, to win a point, lose my soul.
Pray that my family may find in me what yours found in you: friendship and courage, cheerfulness and charity, diligence in duties, counsel in adversity, patience in pain—their good servant, and God’s first. Amen.
I think the dust has settled on the Essendon Football saga. ….at least for the time being.
The damage caused by the supplements scandal continues. 34 players suspended for a year. The AFL attempting to protect the integrity of the competition by giving the club significant recruiting latitude. Some players are considering an appeal with an injunction. If this move is successful, 34 players return to the competition. What happens to the new recruits?
How different would things now be if back in 2013, Hird gave the following apology? Am I talking with the benefit of hindsight? Of course, but was it that difficult to accept responsibility at that time? If he had, by now he may be restoring his tarnished reputation by this one bold act of humility.
Could a different decision by Hird back in 2013-14 have made a big difference?
I was as shocked as anyone when I heard others say that the Essendon Football club had been using banned supplements. It was an allegation that cut deeply across everything I believe in and uphold. My natural reaction was to reject the accusation out of hand.
However the club has now conducted a thorough internal investigation led by capable and experienced people. The investigation has revealed significant failings in our management of the supplements program. I am concerned if not ashamed to report that standing before you today I cannot tell you precisely what substances were injected into our players at any given time throughout 2012.
This is simply not acceptable. It should not be tolerated. It is wrong and as head coach I accept responsibility for this poor management. I am sorry.
Sorry for the scandal that has beset the club. Sorry for bringing this great game of ours into disrepute. But above all sorry to the players and their families. They trusted me and my coaching staff to guide and direct them both on and off the field. They submitted to the supplements program because they were directed to by me. Like myself, they believed there were proper controls in place.
As the head coach, the buck stops with me and I have put my hand up to accept responsibility for this situation. Another reason for my current decision is that the players are innocent in all this. They are victims of our poor management. None of the consequences of the supplements program should be visited on them. They have already been through enough.
I have spoken to the AFL management and the Essendon hierarchy and have accepted full responsibility for what occurred at Essendon in 2012. Accordingly I have tendered my resignation effective immendiately. I have tried to protect the players from any sanctions but this has not been possible. ASADA is offering the players a three match suspension in return for a guilty plea with no finding of intentional conduct on their part. How the players proceed is up to them. I repeat that they are innocent in all this. They are victims and their treatment should reflect that fact.
I will now have plenty of time to reflect. At present I am filled with a mix of emotions. I am angry at what has occurred. Angry with myself and with those I entrusted with the supplements program. Supplements are commonplace in modern professional sport. Administered properly they have benefits to offer. In today’s elite competition every team is looking for an advantage, an edge. I believed that it was important that the club was not left behind in this area of the game. I only wanted what was best for the club.
I am angry at the AFL. This issue has exposed weaknesses in the AFL and ASADA. But this is not the time to express my views on those organisations.
I feel embarrassed and ashamed that this has happened on my watch. I am embarrassed that my time at this great club should conclude in this manner, with ignominy.
I am sorry that so many people have been hurt. I am sorry to my family who have been to hell and back on my account. But my experience is no different to the families of the players.
At the same time I am proud of the players. They have shone under immense pressure. They are great young men caught up in a tragic tale not of their making. I am proud of the club. It is a strong club. It will survive these events and be successful again.
I have made this decision in the hope that the club and players and media can move on. That in my absence some equilibrium can be restored.
Thanks for listening. “